The do’s and don’ts of fall hiking
10 tips for success
By Kourtney Meldrum, Contributor, and Andi Endruhn, Contributor
It’s fall, and weather may be starting to turn but that doesn’t mean that everything that the outdoors has to offer needs to be pushed onto your spring to do list! Fall hiking can take a bit more planning and effort but is worth it when done right! Here are our tips for exploring the mountains this fall:
During the fall, weather in the mountains is often unpredictable. Remember to check the weather of the area you plan to be going in the morning, because forecasts change on a daily basis. It’s also important to be aware that as you gain altitude during your hike, the weather will most likely drop in temperature and there’s a high possibility that you could encounter snow on the ground or in the air, and sometimes even rain during the fall months.
Since you’ll most likely be hiking in varied weather conditions, it’s best to be dressed and prepared for any and all kinds of weather on your hike. Light layers are the easiest to hike with since you will most likely work up a sweat at some point on your hike, but have the option of adding on layers if the weather turns. When it comes to footwear, running shoes won’t always cut it this time of year; the terrain on a fall hike can be slippery from rain, snow, or ice so hiking shoes or boots are recommended for a sure step, and warm and dry feet.
Know what you’re getting into
Before heading out to hike, do some research on the trail you’re doing. There are lots of websites such as http://www.trailpeak.com that will allow you to look up hikes. Be careful when choosing your trails, many hikes that are labeled as “moderate” on official websites, can still vary in degrees of difficulty. Pay attention to the altitude gain over the amount of hours that you’re estimated to be hiking. Since weather will not always cooperate in the fall, and daylight hours are shorter, it is often smartest to choose an easier hike rather than overestimate your abilities with so many variables at play.
Know your abilities
It goes almost without saying that when choosing a hike to know what you’re capable of, but in the fall it’s best to choose a trail based off of your ability, not your ego. It can be tempting to go for the higher peaks, and the longer trails for the bragging rights (perhaps to impress that certain someone), but with increased wildlife activity, shorter days, and inclement weather, the opportunities for risk can quickly outweigh the Instagram photos.
What to pack
If you’re trekking your way up a mountain, always remember to bring a backpack with you. Pack your bag with plenty of snacks and water bottle or two depending on how long you’re hiking. If you’re not going to wear mittens and a hat, throw them into your bag, the walk down is almost always colder, and it’s worth having them along. A first aid kit is always a good idea in the case of any adventure injuries, as is hand sanitizer, and a small package of kleenex.
You should always be mindful of the fact you’re in the habitat of wildlife when you head out onto the trails, this is especially true in the fall when bear sightings are high. During the fall months, bears are actively feeding as they ramp up for their hibernation period. Before you head out, check online to see if there have been any bear sightings in the area recently or if the trail you’re planning to hike has been closed because of wildlife encounters. It is important to be prepared and know what to do in case you come across a bear or any other wildlife on the trail. If you encounter an animal, never approach it; Parks Canada suggests staying 30m (3 bus lengths) away from Elk and 100m (10 bus lengths) away from bears if sighted. Hiking in large groups, and making lots of noise with a bear bell or by talking or shouting helps to let wildlife know of your presence and will usually keep them away. Before heading out, pick up a can of bear spray and hike with it at an accessible location and know how to use in case you need to.
When picking your fall hike, make sure to take into consideration the length. Remember that the days aren’t quite so long as they were through summer, so longer hikes aren’t as feasible; this is especially true if you need to drive hours into the mountains to get to your hike. If you aren’t sure if a hike might be too long, or too hard, it’s probably a good idea to opt for an easier one – you don’t want to be stuck on the peak of mountain or in the woods as the sun is going down. Save the longer hike for the spring or the summer, the mountains aren’t going anywhere!
Tell other people
When heading out into the mountains make sure to inform at least one (if not more) individual of what trail you’re planning to hike and when you’re planning to be back. Make sure they know the name, and a general idea of the area you’ll be in, and how long it should take. This ensures that if something is to happen on the trail, someone is able to notify a park ranger on your whereabouts in order to find you.
Travel with others
You should always hike with at least one other person, but in the fall when bear sightings are more prominent, it’s recommended to hike in larger groups. By hiking with others, not only will you likely be louder, and able to ward away wildlife, but if something goes wrong, you have someone to help you out. Some trails even enforce a 4 group minimum, so check into your trail information before heading out!
After packing, driving, hiking, bear prevention, and probably going through four different kinds of weather, switching out of multiple layers of clothing each time, it’s time to sit down and warm up! Go grab a hot chocolate and go through your pictures and maybe take a nap because you deserve it!